Representatives of the rival MS-13 and Barrio-18 gangs in El Salvador have confirmed the existence of a truce between them, negotiated with the help of the Church.
Raul Mijango, a former congressman who says he acted as a mediator in talks between jailed leaders of the two groups, released a document Thursday written in the name of "the national spokespeople" of the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18.
The document says that the group does not "wish to keep making war," and that it has undertaken peace talks:
Since last year we have begun internally a deep process of reflection and analysis of the serious and pressing problems facing our country, of which we have been part, as a consequence of the war that we have been forced to fight due to social exclusion, marginalization, repression, and the need for survival...
We have not negotiated anything with this government, nor do we ask to, we are tired of corrupt and lying politicians ... that's why this time to accompany our process of reflection we preferred to ask for the assistance of the Church and civil society...
They have made it possible that after 20 years we have been able to reach an agreement between the two rival gangs where we have managed ... to significantly reduce the murders in the country, and, in a gesture of goodwill, to cancel all actions that include attacks against soldiers, police and guards.
The statement has criticism for website El Faro, which last week broke the story of a possible deal between the gangs and the government, saying it had made "perverse and false allegations." The website's sources said that the government had transferred 30 gang members to lower security prisons in exchange for a reduction in violence -- murders dropped by 53 percent in the week after the transfers, compared to the average in the first 12 weeks of the year. The existence of a deal was flatly denied by the government, which said its security policies were to thank for the reduction in crime, before a bishop announced days later that he had brokered a truce between the rival groups, with the knowledge of the government.
El Diario de Hoy reports that on Thursday, after the document was released, it visited imprisoned gang members, including some of the leaders who were transferred. The newspaper says that all the pandilleros they spoke to, 25 from MS-13 and 18 from Barrio-18, confirmed that the document was genuine and reflected their policies. Representatives of both groups said they had not negotiated with the government, and were not seeking to do so.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Diario de Hoy presents strong evidence for the theory that the drop in violence is the result of an inter-gang truce rather than a government deal.
However, doubts remain. The government has not been able to adequately explain the transfer of the 30 imprisoned leaders, while prison director Nelson Rauda admitted to El Faro that the move had been part of a strategy to bring down violence, and said that the leaders' promise to lower violence had been "a factor" in the move. A former national police chief told media Tuesday that it was obvious that the transfer must have involved a negotiation with the authorities.
(Image, above, from El Diario de Hoy, shows MS-13 members "El Diablo," "El Sirra," and "Tiberio" holding the document.)